A day in the life of a medical student

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like being a medical student, we’ve got some first-hand insights to let you know.
Elisa G
Elisa G
Current Medical Student
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I first decided that I wanted to study medicine in high school. I had never really spent any time around doctors or other health professionals (unless you count watching every season of Grey’s Anatomy at least twice), and didn’t really think about what my life would be like whilst studying to become one.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, I got a huge shock when I first started in 2017. The days of thinking undergrad degrees were busy was thrown out the window. Medical school is demanding, and sometimes you feel like you’re constantly inundated with new information that surely your brain does not have any more room for. But at the same time, it’s some of the best years you’ll have, where you’ll have opportunities you’d never dreamed of and make lifelong, like-minded friends.

So, for those of you considering joining the world of endless study (and endless partying if that’s your thing too), I’ve decided to describe just what it’s like in a day in the life of a medical student…

6.00am (yes, it’s early) – My alarm is ringing. I jump out of bed head for the shower and then scramble together some clinical attire (comfy shoes are a must).

6.15am – I eat a massive breakfast –who knows how long ward rounds will go for today, 4 hours? 6 hours? 7? and savour coffee #1. If I didn’t snooze my alarm earlier I might read some news on my phone, feeding my brain with something non-medical related for a change.

6.30am – I pack my lunch (and approximately 1230980 snacks just in case), a coffee thermos (very necessary), a clinical handbook (for the days where nobody seems to recognise the medical students standing in the corner), a stethoscope, clipboard, laptop (and all the other essentials) and I’m ready for whatever might come my way.

7.00am – I head to placement, and sitting on the bus I do flashcards on my phone. A day at the hospital is usually pretty exhausting so I try get things done as early as I can.

8.00am – Ward rounds begin. I’ve got the list of patients and I’m feeling ready to start the day. I stand behind the doctors with the other students on my team and try and listen to what’s going on (this isn’t always successful). We start noting down patients who sound like they might be good to chat to later and practice clinical examinations with.

Sometime later… Ward rounds actually begin. Our huge team of maybe 3 or 4 doctors and just as many medical students start roaming the wards. Sometimes there’s too many of us to fit in the room. Sometimes the consultant brings us in and interrogates our medical knowledge in front of the team much to our despair. Sometimes the consultant doesn’t even know our names. Sometimes we’re asked to present the case of a patient whom we’ve been expected to know all about from the day before. Every day is different!

The afternoon (or the morning if I’m lucky) – After (hopefully) having time to eat some lunch or a snack, and/or coffee #2, the team of doctors encourage us students to go and visit patients. Sometimes this isn’t so successful, you’d be amazed at all the places a patient could be other than their hospital bed! But nonetheless, I eventually find someone and sit down to talk. I’d have to say, this has probably been the most interesting and valuable part of clinical rotations so far. It’s astonishing how well you can remember medical information when you’ve seen it first-hand, and you’ll meet some very interesting characters along the way!

3pm (ish) – At this point I’m usually either at a tutorial run by one of the doctors in the hospital, or am heading home for the day (and attempting some more flashcards on the return trip). I arrive home, head straight for a snack in the fridge and maybe coffee #3 if it has been a big day.

Sitting down to study at this point can be tricky. I usually try and go somewhere with other students (home or the library) for some moral support! Sometimes at this point I’ll put the books down and go for a run, or a bike ride, or anything to get some fresh air and a bit of exercise. It’s amazing how important this has become since I started medical school. If I could give any advice it would be to find something you can do regularly to enjoy yourself and get your mind off study.

The rest of the night usually consists of making dinner, preparing lunch for the next day, and some more study (I really cannot emphasise just how much information they throw at you during med school).

10.00pm (yes, it’s early, but sleep has become invaluable in the past two years) – Finally before going to bed I always give myself some time to read a book or watch some Netflix, or hang out with some friends and have a break from the medical world (again, an essential factor in remaining sane as a med student).

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So you might have gotten to the end of this article and are thinking:

Wow, that really is nothing like Grey’s Anatomy!

Which yes, it isn’t. But I can tell you now that if medicine is truly what you want to study then it’ll be the best time of your life. Yes, there’ll be days when you get home and crawl into bed to replace study with Netflix and popcorn, and days when you question how you might make it through another 6-hour ward round. But this isn’t a bad thing, the days really are long and the new information is endless. We’re only human.

It sounds cliché but medical school really is a rollercoaster. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Elisa G is a current Medical Student. She is also part of the Marketing Team at GradReady GAMSAT Preparation Courses.